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Attention is the behavioral and cognitive process of selectively concentrating on a discrete aspect of information, whether deemed subjective or objective, while ignoring other perceivable information.
- Wherefore a monk's whole attention should thus be fixed on one point, and the rise and circle of all his thoughts be vigorously restricted to it; viz., to the recollection of God, as when a man, who is anxious to raise on high a vault of a round arch, must constantly draw a line round from its exact centre, and in accordance with the sure standard it gives discover by the laws of building all the evenness and roundness required....
- Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
- Jesus, Matthew 7:3
- Are you not ashamed that you give your attention to acquiring as much money as possible, and similarly with reputation and honor, and give no attention or thought to truth and understanding and the perfection of your soul?
- Plato, Apology, 29e
- No man is in any degree fit for either business or conversation, who does not command his attention to the present object, be it what it will. When I see a man absent in mind, I choose to be absent in body; for it is almost impossible for me to stay in the room, as I cannot stand inattention and awkwardness.
- Lord Chesterfield, “Absence of mind,” Advice to his Son
- With curious art the brain, too finely wrought,
Preys on herself, and is destroy'd by thought:
Constant attention wears the active mind,
Blots out our powers, and leaves a blank behind.
- Charles Churchill Epistle to William Hogarth (July 1763), line 645
- From hence in my opinion arises that common prejudice against metaphysical reasonings of all kinds, even amongst those, who profess themselves scholars, and have a just value for every other part of literature. By metaphysical reasonings, they do not understand those on any particular branch of science, but every kind of argument, which is any way abstruse, and requires some attention to be comprehended. We have so often lost our labour in such researches, that we commonly reject them without hesitation, and resolve, if we must for ever be a prey to errors and delusions, that they shall at least be natural and entertaining. And indeed nothing but the most determined scepticism, along with a great degree of indolence, can justify this aversion to metaphysics. For if truth be at all within the reach of human capacity, ‘tis certain it must lie very deep and abstruse; and to hope we shall arrive at it without pains, while the greatest geniuses have failed with the utmost pains, must certainly be esteemed sufficiently vain and presumptuous. I pretend to no such advantage in the philosophy I am going to unfold, and would esteem it a strong presumption against it, were it so very easy and obvious.
- David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Introduction
- Intellectual culture consists, not chiefly, as many are apt to think, in accumulating information, though this is important, but in building up a force of thought which may be turned at will on any subjects on which we are called to pass judgment. This force is manifested in the concentration of the attention, in accurate, penetrating observation, in reducing complex subjects to their elements, in diving beneath the effect to the cause, in detecting the more subtle differences and resemblances of things, in reading the future in the present, and especially in rising from particular facts to general laws or universal truths.
- We may confer a benefit, not only on ourselves, but on others, by diverting attention from the exciting circumstances of the present day—from the disheartening eccentricities of a literature which meanders in a thousand frivolous directions—to the calm regions where the inner man, self-examined, submits himself to moral treatment.
- Ernst von Feuchtersleben, The Dietetics of the Soul; Or, True Mental Discipline (1838), H. Ouvry, trans. (1873), p. 1
- The ability to apprehend a small number of items at one time in the conscious mind can be distinguished from the need to attend to items individually when a larger number of such items are presented. This point is one of the earliest to be noted in psychological commentaries on the limitations in capacity. Hamilton (1859) treated this topic at length and noted (vol. 1, p. 254) that two philosophers decided that six items could be apprehended at once, whereas at least one other (Abraham Tucker) decided that four items could be apprehended. He went on to comment: “The opinion [of six] appears to me correct. You can easily make the experiment for yourselves, but you must be aware of grouping the objects into classes. If you throw a handful of marbles on the floor, you will find it difficult to view at once more than six, or seven at most, without confusion; but if you group them into twos, or threes, or fives, you can comprehend as many groups as you can units; because the mind considers these groups only as units, – it views them as wholes, and throws their parts out of consideration. You may perform the experiment also by an act of imagination.” When the experiment actually was conducted, however, it showed that Hamilton’s estimate was a bit high. Many studies have shown that the time needed to count a cluster of dots or other such small items rises very slowly as the number of items increases from one to four, and rises at a much more rapid rate after that. Jevons (1871) was probably the first actual study, noting that Hamilton’s conjecture was “one of the very few points in psychology which can, as far as we yet see, be submitted to experiment.”
- George Armitage Miller, “The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information.”, Psychological Review, Vol 63(2), (Mar 1956), p.87.
- If you cut up a large diamond into little bits, it will entirely lose the value it had as a whole; and an army divided up into small bodies of soldiers, loses all its strength. So a great intellect sinks to the level of an ordinary one, as soon as it is interrupted and disturbed, its attention distracted and drawn off from the matter in hand; for its superiority depends upon its power of concentration—of bringing all its strength to bear upon one theme.
- Arthur Schopenhauer, "On Noise", (1851).
- If you hold small objects close to your eyes, you limit your field of vision and shut out the world. And, in the same way, the people or the things which stand nearest, even though they are of the very smallest consequence, are apt to claim an amount of attention much beyond their due, occupying us disagreeably, and leaving no room for serious thoughts and affairs of importance. We ought to work against this tendency.
- Not without a slight shudder at the danger, I often perceive how near I had come to admitting into my mind the details of some trivial affair,—the news of the street; and I am astonished to observe how willing men are to lumber their minds with such rubbish,—to permit idle rumors and incidents of the most insignificant kind to intrude on ground which should be sacred to thought. Shall the mind be a public arena, where the affairs of the street and the gossip of the tea-table chiefly are discussed? Or shall it be a quarter of heaven itself,—an hypæthral temple, consecrated to the service of the gods? I find it so difficult to dispose of the few facts which to me are significant, that I hesitate to burden my attention with those which are insignificant, which only a divine mind could illustrate. Such is, for the most part, the news in newspapers and conversation. It is important to preserve the mind’s chastity in this respect. Think of admitting the details of a single case of the criminal court into our thoughts, to stalk profanely through their very sanctum sanctorum for an hour, ay, for many hours! to make a very bar-room of the mind’s inmost apartment, as if for so long the dust of the street had occupied us,—the very street itself, with all its travel, its bustle, and filth, had passed through our thoughts’ shrine! Would it not be an intellectual and moral suicide?
- Those things which now most engage the attention of men, as politics and the daily routine, are, it is true, vital functions of human society, but should be unconsciously performed, like the corresponding functions of the physical body. They are infra-human, a kind of vegetation. I sometimes awake to a half-consciousness of them going on about me, as a man may become conscious of some of the processes of digestion in a morbid state, and so have the dyspepsia, as it is called.
- School children and students who love God should never say: “For my part I like mathematics”; “I like French”; “I like Greek.” They should learn to like all these subjects, because all of them develop that faculty of attention which, directed towards God, is the very substance of prayer.
- Simone Weil, “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God” (1942)
- If we have no aptitude or natural taste for geometry this does not mean that our faculty for attention will not be developed by wrestling with a problem or studying a theorem. On the contrary it is almost an advantage. ... Without our knowing or feeling it, this apparently barren effort has brought more light into the soul. ... Every time that a human being succeeds in making an effort of attention with the sole idea of increasing his grasp of truth, he acquires a greater aptitude for grasping it, even if his effort produces no visible fruit.
- Simone Weil, “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God” (1942)
- I would like to develop a reductionist approach to the problem of attention by focusing on how place cells... create an enduring spatial map only when an organism is paying attention to its surroundings.
- Eric Kandel, In Search of Memory (2006)
- Attention is a biological phenomenon. When you empty your mind, be that by breath, floatation, meditation, exercise… it works by allowing our brains to do some discharge of the junk and let us go back to work.
- Philip Muskin, "Pay Attention: How sensory deprivation and floating impact the mind", CBS News, (April 25, 2018).